Air Alliance aims to gain more supporters in Vail Valley
Ryan Summerlin April 6, 2013
EAGLE – The message was clear when members of the EGE Air Alliance met with the board of commissioners on Tuesday – everyone in the region benefits economically from Eagle County Regional Airport, and it takes everyone’s support to continue the airport’s success.
That’s why the Air Alliance is vigorously campaigning for more members from the business community and beyond.
Right now, the airport is in a trend of declining commercial flights that started in 2007, when the economy was near its peak. Since then, there have been fewer commercial flights because struggling airlines have been consolidating or stopping service. Once a flight is lost, it’s tough to get it back.
To bring in a new flight service, airlines generally demand guaranteed revenues for a certain period of time. Revenue guarantees mean the airline doesn’t lose money if there aren’t enough passengers to cover the cost of the new service. Once the revenue-guarantee time period is up, there will hopefully be enough passengers using the service and the airline will continue the service on its own.
Maintaining and expanding the airport’s flight service is what the Air Alliance is all about, which means scraping up money for revenue guarantees and getting the word out about new services, such as the new summer flight to Houston starting June 27. The Air Alliance consists of local businesses, government officials and other community members. Until recently, there were fewer than 20 businesses contributing to the Air Alliance. Now, there are almost 60 and the number is rising by the day, said Mike Brown, chairman of the Air Alliance.
“Our goal is to reach 200,” Brown said. “We have to expand our partners because it affects everyone.”
Chris Romer, CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, which is a member of the Air Alliance, said a 2008 study by the Colorado Division of Transportation’s division of aeronautics estimated the airport had an indirect economic impact of $982.2 million to the community, with $6.4 million state and local tax receipts paid or collected by airport tenants.
The summer season is the airport’s best opportunity for expanding service right now, the Air Alliance members told commissioners.
Last month, the group secured a United Airlines non-stop flight from Houston that will operate five days a week from June 27 to the end of August. It took $485,000 to secure the service. About $150,000 of that came from private contributors. The rest came mostly from the county, town governments and Vail Resorts.
Brown said the non-stop service to and from Houston creates a wide range of opportunities. He pointed out that Texas has the highest number of people who own second homes in the Vail area and the state has some of the highest numbers of visitors that come here.
“Houston is an important hub for United,” Brown said. “Adding service to Houston in the summer opens up possibilities for other visitors in other cities.”
Brown said the Air Alliance is looking at long-term, sustainable funding models.
“Our funding target is around $1.8 million to $2.4 million a year,” he said. “That would allow us to focus on multiple flights at once.”
Other mountain resort communities such as Aspen, Montrose and Steamboat are spending between $10 and $30 per airline seat – which makes them more competitive for attracting air service – while EGE’s current funding is $2.74 per seat.
Brown said the Air Alliance is approaching all businesses for support by asking hotels to contribute based on the number of units, restaurants by the number of seats, etc.
“We are asking everyone to contribute,” he said.
Kent Myers, president of Air Planners, a consulting firm that is also a member of the Air Alliance, suggested that county commissioners might consider advertising new flight service on their email signatures.
“It’s one line under your name at the end of an email that mentions new service to Houston,” he said. “How much time does that take and how many people see those emails every day? It’s something to consider.”
EGE Director Greg Phillips said the Air Alliance did a great job securing the new Houston service and now it’s up to the community to keep it going.
“It’s incumbent on us to make it work and fill those seats,” he said.
New building plans
In other business on Tuesday, the BoCC discussed plans to build a $5 million storage facility at the airport.
“We have about $5 million worth of snow-removal equipment that sits in the elements year-round right now,” Phillips said. “Building a storage unit is a capital project we’re really focused on this year.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to contribute $1.8 million toward the project and CDOT indicated it would award $1.4 million.
“The CDOT grant is the most critical funding to (secure) this year,” Phillips said of the need to get bids on the project sooner than later.
The sketch plans propose a 27,000-square-foot facility.
“At this point, we would like to get some bids and we can add to, or subtract from the plans depending on if the bids come in high or low from our projections,” Phillips said.
He said the building would be designed to be added on to as the airport grows in the future.
“Besides the elements wreaking havoc on the equipment, another component is aesthetics,” said Eagle County Manager Keith Montag. “It would be nice to not have all that equipment sitting outside. … We certainly don’t want to lose $1.8 million and $1.4 million grants.”